Bridging the EU innovation divide together

19 april 2018

On 10 April, the VSNU (Association of Universities in the Netherlands) and Neth-ER organised a networking event about widening participation: “Bridging the EU innovation divide”.  A lively panel consisting of different stakeholders from the knowledge community as well as from the EU institutions discussed on what should be done to overcome the innovation gap. This was followed by a matchmaking session during which participants could share their thoughts on the issue.

Event on widening participation

On 10 April, the VSNU (Association of Universities in the Netherlands) and Neth-ER organised the networking event ‘Bridging the EU innovation divide’, about the differences in research and innovation achievements across Europe. The importance of collaboration between researchers and universities, the best way to close the innovation gap and the roles of Horizon 2020 and the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) were topics discussed during the event. The event was opened by Dutch ambassador Ronald van Roeden. A panel discussion took up the debate with participation of: Ronald de Bruin, director of COST, Magda De Carli, Head of Unit for Spreading of excellence and widening participation of DG Research and Innovation (RTD) and Stanislaw Kistryn, Vice-Rector of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. The panel was moderated by Elmer Sterken, Rector Magnificus of the University of Groningen. The speakers gave interesting insights into the ongoing discussion on the best way to bridge the innovation divide. This discussion paved the way for a matchmaking session in which participants had the opportunity to share their thoughts on breaking down barriers and building bridges.

Reaching across the divide

All the panellists underlined that closing the innovation divide is in everyone’s interest. This is also why the VSNU presented their ‘9 key points to bridge the innovation divide’ as Dutch universities are committed to actively engage in new cooperations with universities and researchers from all over Europe. Right now, the EU cannot afford to waste talent in a global competition. At the same time, excellent research infrastructures are already present in the new member states, often with financial support from the structural funds. But these infrastructures are sometimes underused and not well known in the other Member States. According to the members of the panel efforts are needed on the EU, national and institutional level to communicate this. Collaboration could be improved and further encouraged. Better connectivity is key: an important factor in overcoming the innovation divide is the limited participation and access of researchers in new Member States in well-established European research networks. The future Widening instruments in FP9 need to address this issue by providing more access to networks for researchers and innovators. Another point that was addressed is that research management skills need to be strengthened. Also, setting up peer-to-peer support and investing in young researchers’ career perspectives could be ways to bridge the innovation gap.

Better use of existing tools

The members of the panel also agreed that we should strive for better use of already existing tools and programmes. ESIF should be used for creating synergies with the Framework Programme and should enable sequential funding. ESIF should therefore make better use of the evaluation from the Framework Programme, like the Seal of Excellence. Policy-makers should strive for more compatibility between ESIF and national funding. Finally, Horizon 2020 tools are well used and well-received. We should therefore look at improvements instead of introducing new instruments.


The differences in research and innovation achievements across the EU is a structural issue. The Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation instruments were introduced under Horizon 2020 to tackle the low participation of some Member States in Framework Programme projects. With this event, the VSNU and Neth-ER aimed to exchange ideas on how to reach across the divide and increase collaboration in the areas of research and innovation between different regions and Member States. This event hopes also to contribute to the development of the new programmes such as FP9.

More information

Publication VSNU: 9 Key points to bridge the innovation divide
Article Neth-ER (in Dutch): EP: Dichten innovatiekloof vereist verbetering nationale O&I-systemen
Article Neth-ER (in Dutch):
Hoe verklein je de EU innovatiekloof?
Dossier Neth-ER (in Dutch): Widening participation


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